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"Backcountry" submission that never saw the light

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"Backcountry" submission that never saw the light

Postby sierranomad » Thu Dec 15, 2005 11:32 am

Howdi:

5 years ago I submitted an article to the "Backcountry" section of the Backpacker magazine. I was told that "Backcountry" was ending and they weren't accepting any more submissions. Well, I've still got the article, and figured I may as well pull it out from my desk drawer. Hope you enjoy it. It's title is "A Bonding with the Planet"

"What's that noise!?" I had taken my friend Jeremy camping. Jeremy had never been backpacking so I decided it would be good to break him into it slowly. That was how I came to be in one of Yosemite's grossly overcrowded campgrounds.

I had been sleeping peacefully when I was awakened by some noise outside. I groggily raised my head, when wide-eyed Jeremy asked "what's that noise?!" It was the unmistakable sound of a bear being chased from someone's food.

In the backcountry seeing a bear is an exciting event. However, there's something about seeing one in a crowded campground with his nose in a grocery sack that makes the experience seem more liike a trip to the zoo. In my eyes it takes some of the dignity away from these magnificent creatures, so I'd rather not see them this way.

"Oh, it's just a bear", I replied, and dropped my head back on my pillow. Seeing my lack of excitement about something that must have been very exciting to this boy from New York City, Jeremy exclaimed "you must see a lot of wildlife when you backpack". I thought of the countless miles and days, indeed entire trips that can go by without seeing anything more exciting than a squirrel, and replied, "no, not really".

Later I gave more thought to that question, and my mind flooded with numerous encounters I've had with wildlife. I thought of the time along the Appalachian Trail when my wife and I saw a mother bear with two cubs. The cubs were batting a large feather around, chasing and playing with it and each other like puppies. Momma bear kept her eye on us but didn't seem overly concerned. Staying to watch was probably not the wise thing to do, but we were so enthralled by the cubs that it took us awhile to tear ourselves away.

Then I thought of the time along Northern Californai's coastal interior. I rounded a bend in one of the area's more remote trails only to find myself face-to-rear end with a bear. Instantly, the bear swung his head around and our eyes locked. Granted, he wasn't a griz, but I was fully aware that if this unpredictable wild animal decided that he didn't like me, his exact genus would matter little. I tightened and adrenaline began to flood through my body as I anxiously reviewed what to do when attacked by a bear. Apparently Mr. Bear also had misgivings, for he ran away and crashed through the brush at an incredibly fast (though not particularly graceful) gait.

As most backpackers know, you don't have to see wildlife to have a "wildlife encounter". A couple [now 7] years ago I was backpacking in California's Henry W. Coe State Park, which is mountain lion country. I was three days in when there was a huge crash in the brush up ahead off to the left of the trail. Two deer bolted out of the brush and ran toward me at breakneck speed. As they passed, I could see that there were wild-eyed with terror. They didn't seem to even notice me. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and my mouth went dry, fully expecting the mountain lion to be the next one out of the thicket. I waited and had that eerie feeling you get when you know you're being watched. Taking my knife out of my pocket I raised my arms in an attempt to look bigger, and slowly backed away.

Wildlife encounters don't have to bring a rush of adrenaline to be a cherished part of the wilderness experience. At Cranberry Lake in New York's Adirondacks my wife and I were introduced to the legendary cry of the loon. Like the howl of a wolf, the cry of the loon is the music of the wilderness. Its beautifully haunting cry wraps around you like a blanket and makes the night magical, enchanting.

A few months ago I sat by California's Mokelumne River. While allowing my breakfast to settle before breaking camp, I saw two otter riding the river. Their presence was the icing on the cake of an already wonderfully tranquil morning - the soft warm breeze gently caressed my skin and whispered through the oak...the crystal clear river gurgled and splashed over and around the river rock, and danced midstream.

There are many other encounters I've had with wildlife. These can bring humor, excitement, or yes, a measure of fear, but they all alike bring a sense of wonder. I was thinking of these things during my most recent trip to Yosemite. What gift would my journey into the wilderness bring this time?

A couple of miles into my trip I came upon a small water - drenched meadow in the grip of a hard frost. The mosses and other flora were painted with the thick, sparkling brush of ice crystals. I witnessed the new days sun rise over the eastern horizen and gently massage warmth back into this alpine meadow. The moss seemed to expand as the frost melted away, becoming tiny rivulets of water that began to trickle around them.

Later as I was walking through an open pine forest I noticed something unusual. I heard nothing. I've encountered silence in my journeys before, but rarely anything as profound as this. As darkness is absolute in a cave, so was silence here. There was not the stir of a breeze, the scratching of a bird, nor the sound of insects in the forest duff. I stood there for a few minutes, trying to penetrate the silence, to discern any sound - but there was none. Though I enjoyed this unexpected gift of the wilderness, to my surprise, I also found myself a little disconcerted.

No, I saw no memorable wildlife on that trip. However, that journey was complete. When entered with eyes open and senses alert, every trip into the wilderness is a bonding with the planet. Going into the wilderness is not a trip to the zoo, nor is it like turning on the T.V. - activities wherein we chose when and by what we are going to be entertained. The unpredictable quality of nature is what holds much of its appeal.

I've asked Jeremy to join me in the outdoors again. This time though, I would take him backpacking. Perhaps he would be privileged to see a bear in the wild. Maybe he would witness a frozen meadow awakened by the morning sun, or alpine meadows covered in lupine, sierra gentian and indian paintbrush; along with the warm glow of the afternoon sun. I can't say exactly what he would experience, but I can gaurantee that it would be an adventure. An adventure, a reviving of mind and body...and a bonding with this planet that is our home.
Last edited by sierranomad on Thu Dec 15, 2005 6:13 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Jon

"When one tugs on a single thing in nature, he finds it's attached to the rest of the world". - John Muir



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Postby copeg » Thu Dec 15, 2005 12:02 pm

VERY nice read! Thanks for posting it :)
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Postby sierranomad » Thu Dec 15, 2005 3:39 pm

Thanks trailblazer. :)
Last edited by sierranomad on Thu Dec 15, 2005 11:13 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Jon

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Postby ERIC » Thu Dec 15, 2005 9:54 pm

Excelent! Thanks for sharing.
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Postby Snow Nymph » Thu Dec 15, 2005 11:12 pm

I enjoyed your story! Thanks for posting!
Expose yourself to your deepest fear; after that, fear has no power, and the fear of freedom shrinks and vanishes. You are free . . . . Jim Morrison


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Postby sierranomad » Fri Dec 16, 2005 6:39 pm

Thanks admin and Snow Nymph. I appreciate the encouragement ;)
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